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RVers Install Solar Panels Onto Their Motorhomes

INDUSTRY EDGE

TECH & TRENDS

Saving Energy: RV Solar

Solar Power Is Becoming A Popular Alternative Power Source Of Choice Amongst RVers

Solar Panel [Photo Credit: Alan Levine]

Solar energy has become, for some, the back up or alternative energy of choice for some home and business owners. However, solar is also becoming an alternative power source of choice for some RVers as well. Like the units for home and business, the solar panels, for the RV may be mounted on the roof or placed at ground level. These units are, of course, smaller than those created for homes and business, as they will be powering a smaller space. But the end result is the same....power from the sun!

Or, is it really battery power from the sun?                                     

Drew, from Northern Arizona Wind and Sun, reminds those thinking of solar, that the RV is not actually “running” off of the sun, but off of batteries charged by the sun. So it is important that the batteries stay charged. No batteries.....no power! That said, Drew mentions that in his part of the country, he is seeing a steady growth of solar use on RVs due to “boondocking” or  dry camping, usually (but not always) in remote areas. This means that there are no hook ups, no sewer, no bathrooms, nothing. You are living off the grid.  Garret Towne, from AM Solar in Springfield, Oregon, says that they are “seeing a lot more young people take up the RV lifestyle. We've dubbed the term “YURV” (Young Urban RVer) for describing these customers. Many of them are affluent, working remotely in technology or media and wanting adventure.

Garret also agrees that solar power on an RV can give consumers more flexible camping option, he states that any RV owner, even those who might not do much boondocking can benefit from solar as well. “A solar charging system will extend the life of your expensive batteries by constantly giving them a healthy charge, especially when your RV is not being used.”

However, those looking at a solar system for their RV must also look at the reality of what a system can produce for their camper. This is first determined by the size of the RV and the space that is available to place the panel(s) necessary to help produce the power. It is also determined by the customer's power usage and, of course, their budget. Garret says that the most important information that they, or any solar company would need from the consumer includes:

What are some of your largest electrical loads?

                  How would you describe your RV usage- are you a full timer or weekend camper?

                  What is the make and model of the rig?

                  What do you wish you could do that you can't right now?

                  And for the more savvy customers: What is your daily Amp Hour consumption.

Glueing Solar Panels To The RV [Courtesy/AM Solar]
AM Solar Incorporated Logo [Courtesy/AM Solar]

 And don't worry about the age of the RV, as Drew says “ We can get solar panels on anything that has batteries!”

Once installed, some of the more elaborate systems can do almost anything the RV owner might need, including running an air conditioner for a couple of hours per day. However, don't think that you will be able to park in the middle of the desert and be able to have the air on all day. According to Garret “Air conditioners (and heaters for that matter) use a relatively large amount of energy.  The sun only puts out so much energy per square foot and the roof of an RV has a limited number of square feet available for mounting solar panels.” Drew adds that if an RV has both a generator and solar, just about anything could be run, but it still isn't infinite power like being plugged into electric. Care still should be used in what is being operated and for how long, especially if staying in a remote area.

That said, there are those RVers who live a good part of the time off the grid, and very successfully. And the consumer can expect to get a fairly good life out of their system. The panels should last about 25 years while the inverters and charge controls can go 10 years. As far as the batteries, AGM usually last 3-5 years while lithium batteries can last up to 10 years, although warranted for 5.

So, once the decision has been made to have solar installed on an RV, the next decision is how? Take it to a professional, or is it possible to make it a DYI project?  Actually, either is possible. Of course, if the RV owner isn't comfortable doing installations, especially if it may mean having to drill into their RV, then going the professional route will be the appropriate decision. Time wise, using a professional installer a more complex installation of panels, inverter system and lithium batteries may take approximately week, a simple solar charger can be done within a few days.

For those who are up to the challenge of doing the installation themselves, all of the information the owner needs is provided, right down to wiring guidelines. And it is all pretty straight forward so no specific engineering or electrical background is necessary, but there should be a familiarity of wiring and some installation experience will also be of help. Says Ian Shurtieff of Wholesale Solar, Mt. Shasta, California,” These are not difficult to install at all as long as you know what you are doing.”

Sunset At The Beach

 Some RV companies may also offer an option of solar being installed at the factory. While this may provide a one stop shopping, “turnkey” solution to the consumer, it may also end up being a “one size fits all” solution which, unfortunately may not fit the owner's needs, whereas installing a system after the fact will allow the owner to install exactly what will meet their particular needs.

Of course with the extra costs involved in installing a solar system on to an RV, the question naturally will come up as to, in the end, what value does this add to the rig. For Ian, “Solar adds a very high value to your RV in that if you go camping like I do I want to be able to relax and enjoy nature without have to hear the loud noise of a generator. Solar can help eliminate that problem completely, you can sit back knowing that your batteries are being charged just by the sun. “

Garrett adds that “In a private party sale to the right person, solar can be advantageous.”  But then cautions that “on a trade-in you aren’t likely to get much help because solar power systems are usually highly individualized.  Fortunately, the expensive equipment can be removed and reinstalled in a new rig.”

As with any technology, there is always something for the consumer to keep watch for. According to Garrett, “Lithium battery banks are hot right now.  We have spent several years in R&D to come up with our AM Solar Lithium Battery Systems.  Lithium batteries last much longer, store more power for the same space and can supply more current than traditional lead-acid batteries.  They also require much less maintenance.  You don’t have to worry about adding distilled water or regularly bringing them up to a full charge.”


Kim Pezza

A graduate of State University Of New York At Fredonia with a BA in Creative Writing, Kim is an author for Hatherleigh Press [Random House] and Seaside Publishing. She enjoys camping, cheese making and historic crafts.

Armitage Park

Make Sure To Stay At:

Armitage Park, which is open year round and includes water/electric/sewer/cable hookups and WiFi throughout the campground with free showers for registered campers and a laundry facility.

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